The perception is that Colorado's track and field program is a distance-running program.

Given the success of the distance runners, it's no wonder.

Since 1996, the Buffaloes have produced 11 individual national championships in track and field — all in distance running events. Chuck Rogers was the last Buff to win a title in something other than a distance run, and that came in 1966 when he won the pole vault.

As good as they have been, however, the reality is that CU's program isn't all about endurance running. This week, CU is sending 18 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary Championships, including seven in non-distance events.

"It's certainly our aspiration to have us known as a well-rounded team, rather than a team that has a specialty," CU head coach Mark Wetmore said.

The Buffs will try to prove their all-around strength at the West prelims, which will be held Thursday through Sunday at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville, Ark.

Of course, the Buffs are expecting big things out of their distance runners. Shalaya Kipp is ranked No. 1 in the region in the 3,000-meter steeplechase; she won the national title in that event in 2012. Abby Levene is the No. 5 seed in the 10,000-meter run and Ben Saarel is the sixth seed in the 1,500-meter run.

They are expecting good things out of the others, too.

Emily Hunsucker is ranked No. 3 in the hammer throw, while Kelsey English is No. 4 in the high jump. Shaw Gifford (200-meter dash) and Alex Kizirian (hammer throw) are among several of the CU men hoping to advance to the NCAA Championships, to be held June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.

"There's a good mix and it proves that we're pretty strong in all different aspects," English said. "I'm really excited to see what we can do. I've never been (to Fayetteville) before, so it'll be really fun for a new atmosphere to compete in and see us all do really well."

Qualifying several non-distance athletes for the NCAA prelims is not new to CU. They had a strong, all-around contingent go in 2008, too, and have had a smattering of individuals qualify over the years.

The Buffs have yet to consistently get a lot of non-distance athletes this far, though.

"A really big thing we need to change the perception and change the reality is $143 million facilities upgrades," Wetmore said, referring to the facilities upgrade project that CU started a couple of weeks ago.

With the upgrades, which CU is projecting to be completed by fall of 2015, the program is expected to get new locker rooms, offices and a top-notch indoor facility that could draw elite athletes to Boulder.

"What has stopped us from having a team that is as strong across the board as it is the distance events has been the inability to recruit national caliber athletes to venerable Balch Gymnasium," Wetmore said. "(The upgrades) will significantly change our recruiting and potentially significantly change the perception and actuality of our team."

Despite their current limitations, however, the Buffs have built a pretty good stable of athletes.

"We have a lot of upcoming talent," Gifford said. "We have a lot of talent coming in. As great as it is to be known as a distance school, sprinters are really going to be up and coming. We nailed a couple of recruits that will definitely help out the program and we'll make a name for ourselves next year."

The Buffs aren't done this year, though.

The top 12 finishers in each event this week qualify for the NCAA Championships. Since 2007, Hunsucker (hammer throw, 2013) is the only non-distance athlete from CU to get there, but they hope to bring several this year.

"I definitely see myself up there," Gifford said. "I've been working every year (to reach prelims) and just getting a little bit better. Every year I get a little bit better and it feels like all the hard work has finally paid off for me."

English was 13th at prelims a year ago and, despite missing a couple of weeks with a heart ablation, she said she's ready to go.

"Last year was such a bummer because it was one place off and this year I'm really determined to go past that," she said. "I'm close to 6-feet (in the high jump) and the best I've ever felt, so I'm really hoping everything sticks."

If the Buffs can make some noise in the non-distance events this week, it could spark a change in the perception of the program.

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.